Uncertainty is hard to live with. And the stress and fear that often accompany it can be demanding . . .
. . . especially when it comes to the nervous system.
That’s why we reached out to Deb Dana, LCSW to get her perspective on how clients can calm the nervous system when they’re feeling stressed, afraid, or alone.
In the video, Deb mentions “ventral regulation.” According to Deb there are three states of the nervous system, and ventral is the state in which people feel safe and connected.
Now let’s hear from Deb.
Curiosity is one of the emergent properties of ventral vagal, and that means that when you’re in a ventral vagal state, curiosity arises. When you’re in sympathetic or dorsal, you do not have access to your curiosity. So, when you’re in ventral and you feel some curiosity, that then increases your ventral, and it creates this beautiful feedback loop. I’m there and I feel a moment of curiosity, and then I feel more ventral and more curiosity. Right now in the world, we can get so pulled out of curiosity. We can get so pulled out of an anchor in ventral and feel sympathetically charged, “I have to do something now, I don’t know what to do, get me out of here,” or that dorsal despair. I think most people are fluctuating between the two in loops now over and over and over. The question, when you’re creating a connection plan, “What would I like to explore?” is sort of a prompt that reminds you that you do have access to ventral and that your curiosity still lives there. And in this time of our lives, I think having something written on paper that, when you read it, brings that memory of curiosity is very helpful because we can get so stuck in those other states. So, a lot of this work, the connection plan, making your social engagement continuum, any of these things that we’re doing are sort of pre-planning. You do them when you have a moment, when you feel regulated enough that you want to sit down and bring some curiosity, which then means you have enough ventral to move ahead with these things. Then you’ve done them, and you put them somewhere where you can have access to them because when you’re getting pulled out, you don’t have prefrontal cortex energy to help you. You don’t remember that, “Oh, I do have access to my curiosity.” It’s actually fun to do when you’re feeling enough curiosity to do it, and then it’s there for you to grab onto when you need it. Compassion is another emergent property of ventral, which I think comes after curiosity, so I think if we can find curiosity, then we can go to compassion, and then to self-compassion. All three of those are incredibly needed in the world right now.
If you didn’t catch every question Deb listed when she walked you through the Personal Connection Plan, we’ve got you covered.
We created a Personal Connection Plan handout that you can download here. Feel free to print it and use it with your clients.
If you’d like to hear more from Deb about the three states of the nervous system and get an exercise to help clients learn to “listen” to what their nervous system needs, you can do so here.
Now we’d like to hear from you.
What have you found helpful with clients who are feeling drained or stressed by the uncertainty that we’re living with during the pandemic? What practices have been helpful for clients who are struggling to connect with friends and family?
Please share your experiences below.